Historic World War II plane returns to Fargo Air Museum

Aviation legend Gerry Beck spent 16 years restoring the Vought F4U Corsair.

A blue propeller plane inside a museum hangar.
The Vought F4U Corsair plane restored by the late Gerry Beck is on display in the Fargo Air Museum on Thursday, May 18, 2023, after being in a Minnesota air museum for the last six years.
Michael Vosburg / The Forum

FARGO — An important piece of aviation history that the late Gerry Beck spent 16 years restoring has returned to the Fargo Air Museum.

The Vought F4U Corsair, which is owned by Cindy Schreiber-Beck, had been on display at the Wings of the North Air Museum, or WOTN, in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, since 2017. WOTN is currently closed while the nonprofit raises money to build a new museum/hangar complex, according to a May 10 Eden Prairie Local News article.

The F4U Corsair was made famous during World War II thanks to a powerful engine that allowed it to fly faster than 400 miles per hour and a deadly machine gun, according to the National WWII Museum.

More than 12,000 Corsairs were produced for the United States, and Beck's plane was delivered to the U.S. Navy in 1946. It didn't see any combat during WWII or the Korean War but was instead used as a training plane, Fargo Air Museum Collections Manager Max Sabin said. He credited WOTN with finding those details by researching the plane's serial number.

The plane was sold to the Honduran Air Force in 1960 and in service until 1969 when it became a parts plane for other aircraft, Sabin said. It was sold to the U.S. in the 1970s when Beck discovered it. In 1982, Beck and his team at Tri-State Aviation in Wahpeton began the painstaking process of restoring it.


It was the first of many historic warbirds Beck and his team would restore.

"Gerry Beck was such an inspiration to the North Dakota aviation community and aviation in general, and we're so happy to have it home," Sabin said. "We're grateful to Cindy and her daughter Whitney for sharing it with us; it's such a special plane."

Designed by Vought Aircraft's chief engineer Rex Biesel in early 1938, the F4U Corsair featured inverted gull wings to offer ground clearance for the plane's 13-foot propeller. It broke the speed record for a single-seat fighter aircraft in its maiden flight, prompting the U.S. Navy to order Vought to begin production, according to the National WWII Museum.

Currently, the Fargo Air Museum is full of historic aircraft, so the Corsair's wings are folded. However, Sabin said, if the opportunity arises to move the plane to a new location within the museum that offers more space, the plane's wings could be unfolded so visitors could get a sense of the plane's size and unique wing design.

Beck restored the plane to be able to fly, and the Corsair made the quick flight from Eden Prairie to Fargo on May 8.

Sabin said there are no plans for the plane to take to the air again anytime soon, mostly due to the fact that so few pilots are trained to fly it. He estimated there are fewer than 20 flyable Corsairs remaining and likely fewer than 100 in existence.

Visitors to the air museum may notice the name "Capt. Blake Middleton" on the Corsair's cockpit. WOTN Museum Director Bob Jasperson said Middleton was a Navy pilot, retiring as captain after 26 years of service.

He became involved with the Planes of Fame East Air Museum at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, flying three Navy WWII fighters — the Corsair, Hellcat and Bearcat — in various airshows in the region, according to his obituary.


WOTN was founded in 1998 after the Planes of Fame Air Museum relocated to California. Middleton died in 2022, and his name was added to the Corsair in honor of his time as a Navy pilot as well as WOTN aviation volunteer, Jasperson said.

Beck died in 2007 when the P-51 Mustang fighter plane he built and was flying collided on the ground with another plane at an air show in Wisconsin, according to a July 31, 2007, Forum article.

His coffin was placed under the wing of the Corsair for his funeral at the Fargo Air Museum because he often sat under the wing to get out of the sun, Cindy Schreiber-Beck said at the time.

A propeller box
At his 2007 funeral at the Fargo Air Museum, Gerry Beck's coffin was placed under the wing of the Vought F4U Corsair he spent 16 years restoring because his widow said he often liked to sit in its shade when he was alive.
Forum file photo

The next year, Beck was inducted into the North Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame.

Beck's career began as a crop sprayer , and he founded Tri-State Aviation in 1974 as an aircraft restoration business. He was an early supporter of the Fargo Air Museum, which opened in 2001.

The Fargo Air Museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission varies from $8 for children to $12 for adults, with special rates for veterans or military members, seniors and students.

Danielle Teigen has a bachelor's degree in journalism and management communication as well as a master's degree in mass communication from North Dakota State University. She has worked for Forum Communications since May 2015, first as a digital content manager before becoming the Life section editor and then deputy editor. She recently moved back to her hometown in South Dakota, where she works remotely for Forum Communications as managing editor of On the Minds of Moms.
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